Being a bit of a fantasy nerd, I'm irresistibly drawn to old-fashioned garb such as cloaks and robes. I recently acquired a cloak from my friend Dylan who moved away, but it was lacking a closure for the neck, so I set about researching traditional methods of joining the halves of such a garment. The so-called penannular brooch is an elegant solution that apparently was ubiquitous in antiquity. It is simply a pin that passes through fabric to be joined, and an attached ring that captivates the ends of the pin. A gap in the ring allows the pin to be passed through before rotating the gap away.
Bike spokes are a great material to make a lot of things out of:
- They are abundant, about a dollar apiece at a bike shop, or free if you have a dead wheel you can salvage from. Ask your local bike shop; they will probably give you a dead wheel for free if you tell them what you're doing and aren't too obnoxious about it.
- They are often (ideally) polished stainless steel, which makes for a pin that slides through fabric easily and doesn't corrode.
- They are quite stiff and strong for their diameter, which is good, because an incomplete circle is a much weaker structure, mechanically speaking, than an equivalent solid ring. They are more than stiff enough to make even a large brooch, maybe up to 100mm in diameter, though that's bordering on absurdly-large-belt-buckle territory. A 100mm brooch is likely an attempt to shatter fashion conventions in a dramatic statement.
2mm spokes (the most common size you're likely to find) are great for the ring part, and can be used for the pin as well, but a skinnier pin, made from a 1.7, or 1.8mm spoke would pass through the tight weave of a modern fabric better.
For tools, all you really need are a pair of decent needlenose pliers and some sturdy wirecutters. Most consumer needlenose pliers come with mono-buttocked integral cutting blades on their jaws, which worked just fine for me, though a person of limited hand strength may wish to use cutters better suited to the task. Longer-handled needlenose pliers would be nice if you are lacking in hand strength, as 2mm spokes take a fair bit of force to bend, especially when bending the tight loop in the pin. I have a pair that I got from a free box that I can loan out if needed.
I also used:
- A hammer and the small anvil on the back of my crappy vise.
- A bench grinder to sharpen the pin. You could conceivably use a fine file or a whetstone to sharpen it, but I suspect that would be rather tedious. If you're joining loosely-woven fabric, or something like a hand-knitted garment, you may not need to sharpen it at all, though you still may wish to soften the sharp edges left by the wire cutters.
The first step is to trim off the elbow of the spoke and the threaded end. Then cut the remainder into two pieces, one about twice as long as the other. Doesn't have to be exact. I ended up cutting off extra length later anyway.
I started with the shorter piece, bending a tight loop onto one end with the tip of the pliers:
Play around with it. You'll get a feel for how to work the wire into the shape you want.
Then to sharpen the point. I used a bench grinder to put a fine point on it, dipping it in a pot of water every few seconds to keep the heat from building up and discoloring the stainless steel (and from burning my poor little fingers).
Stainless doesn't usually spark much, so don't expect this shower of sparks.
Definitely wear safety glasses when grinding. I'm practically religious about it, and sometimes I still get irritated eyes at the end of a day of heavy grinding. Plus, stainless is non-magnetic, so the doctor won't be able to suck it out of your eyes with a magnet like they do for regular steel objects in the eye.
I also hammered the loop flat on the back of my crappy vise. Don't hammer on a nice vise please.
Then on to the ring part, or "penannulus" (heh heh, penis-anus).
Bend the longer piece of wire into a near-circle:
Cut off the extra length:
I also hammered the ends of the ring flat in an attempt to make it look a little nicer:
Then just slip the loop of the pin onto the ring and you're done!
To use the brooch, push the pin through the pieces of fabric you want to join, pass the gap in the ring over the end of the pin, and then rotate the ring to keep the pin from going back through the gap.
This picture is of version 1, which had a dangerously long, sharp pin. I cut the pin shorter and resharpened it.
Another improvement that can be made is to recurve the ends of the ring so that the pin is captivated on the ring. It also makes it look a little fancier, though my wire-work could use some refinement:
Ultimately, in the couple of hours that I have worn the cloak, I have drawn blood gouging myself on the pin multiple times. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I suspect that the issue is that I had to sharpen the pin really sharp to make it work with the tightly-woven fabric of the cloak. It is likely that most ancient fabrics were of a much looser weave. If you look at pictures of old brooches, they often have somewhat blunt pins.
The pin also leaves a hole in the fabric, which may massage out with time, but I suspect that repeated piercings of the fabric will eventually wear it out.
The penannular brooch is an elegant mechanism, but a more sophisticated clasp that has mating halves attached to each lapel of the cloak seems more convenient to operate, less damaging to the fabric, and safer than fumbling with a sharp pin near the neck.
A lot of my projects aren't really worth reporting on: "oh, I welded a bracket onto a piece of pipe for a guy... oh, I fixed so-and-so's spatula". Seeing as this is a bloggity blog, I suppose I should blather on at length about my personal life and all manner of other things that my sponsors indicate will improve my SEO.
Springtime is welcome. Right now it's a bit stormy; kinda nice. Fresh air from off the ocean. My neighbor's windchimes are going crazy. They always sound a bit melancholy to me, as if they are ringing after the passing of a tornado, and all the humans are dead. That notion is the product of having seen "Twister" at an impressionable age, I think.
I finally got out on the best section of the Marys this Winter, when the river was at about 10' at the Bellfountain Gauge.
It's so pretty up there. Even in the Winter, which is really the most reasonable time to paddle it.
Fair warning, there are some dangerous strainers around blind corners that absolutely require portaging. Be prepared to back-paddle and ferry to the side (all my portages are on the right, as it happens, but you may decide otherwise).
Finally got this deck frame installed on my customers' school bus. It's been fun to work with free-form curves for a change. It's a different kind of brain stimulation.
There's also a shelf that hangs off the back for mounting an air conditioning unit:
It's been my honor to do some work in the Whiteside Theatre, making a railing to bring their balcony balustrade up to coded height. It's 71' long with a gentle, sweeping curve.
Finished the bike frame for my buddy Donn. He rides a lot. This was my first time using a curved top tube.
Making a 1:10 scale model of the organ bike canopy. I really like this hyperboloid wing, but I'm going to try some other designs before committing to a big fabric purchase:
school bus deck, etc, etc.
Still needs powdercoat, but pretty much done with the fabrication. This is a 7' x 7' deck for the top of the same school bus that got the solar panel rack. It's been fun to work on something that has some free-form lines to it. Gave me a chance to experiment with my tube roller.
I'll put up pictures of the finished deck when it's installed.
There are removable 6' posts that sleeve into receivers on the deck to make a safety railing and for hanging rope lights. When stowed, they fit under the eaves of the deck and are captivated in place by a clevis pin, mocked up in the photo with a piece of 1/2" tubing.
Other ostensibly interesting projects are a modular bike trailer for my friend Austin, who wants a set of trailer hardware that can be bolted onto an aluminum extrusion frame. Taking a leaf out of the automotive design book, we opted to use spherical rod-end bearings to allow for different configurations of the tongue.
I also finished up a quick bike trailer project for a local naturalist and ecological restorian to haul native plants and horticultural implements into the bush:
The organ trailer is nearing completion. The only major design element left to finish is a canopy to protect the rider and instrument from the sun and unexpected rain showers. I'm currently reaching out to textile experts for consultation on tensioned fabric structures. If anyone out there in cyber land has experience or inclination toward designing tensioned-fabric things, please let me know.
Anyway, here's what I have so far, just about ready for powder coat:
School bus solar panel rack
This took several months from initial phone calls to the final installation, but it paid off when everything ended up working the way it was intended and I learned a lot about pneumatics in the process.
The idea was to have solar panels stored beneath other solar panels that could be deployed on slides when the vehicle is parked. Since the bus has an onboard air system for the brakes, wipers, door-opener, etc, it was a worthwhile step to deploy the panels with air cylinders.
The extra large panels, 310W apiece, measuring 990 x 1640mm (39" x 65") required the use of some very pricey outdoor-rated drawer slides. I recommend if you're considering a similar project, use narrower panels so that you can use more readily available components.
Starting over on the blog idea
Apparently, I don't know how to use the internet, so all the pictures on this page are clumped together in a weird order. It's like those books where they put all the color pictures in a few pages in the middle.
My old blog was full of boring stuff. You can see boring stuff any old time. I'll try to keep this strictly interesting stuff.
Solar panel rack:
Some cool folks with a school bus conversion ("skoolie", in fancy pants parlance) contracted me to design and build a solar panel rack based on this Youtube video. It has panels that deploy on drawer slides using pneumatic cylinders.
This has been a really cool opportunity to learn about pneumatic systems. Pneumatic components are relatively cheap for how versatile they are. The catch is that compressed air itself is expensive to create. Thankfully, the school bus has an onboard air system for operating the brakes, the windshield wipers, the flip-out "STOP" sign, and the door.
This project is done except for the final installation, so I will have more pictures later.
Dave from the brewery had me cut up some kegs for a stainless steel suit of armor. Hilarity ensues. Attaching the legs was tricky, but I ended up bolting some steel "cleats" to the bottom of some sacrificial shoes that lock into some hardware at the bottom of the leg.
The Organ Bike:
I keep calling it the "organ bike", when really it's a trailer. This nonprofit called Orgelkids USA has contracted me to build them a trailer to support their miniature, 25-key pipe organ and its player. It has a system of linkages that allows the organist to pedal to pump the air for the organ. It's been an honor, and they have been exceedingly patient with my excruciating pace on this project. Designing the suspension was a challenge, but illuminating.
I've been doing some framebuilding. It is the logical solution to being super tall and a welder. I like bikes that have:
- As much tire clearance as possible. Even if you never use it.
- Disc brakes. They just work, get over it.
- Mount points for whatever necessary to make the bike truly convenient. Why have a custom bike if you're not going to bedazzle it with stuff. My bike weighs about a gazillion pounds, but it is still the best bike I've ever had.
- A fit to my ginormous legs and arms. I have never until recently owned a bike that truly fits me. A lot of this is the fork. My fork is 900mm long. The longest commercially available fork that I know of is 780mm.
I've built some frames for friends too, which has been a good way to fund the learning experience. The latest one is a touring bike for 27.5 x 2.4" tires with very high handlebars. I'm using a curved top tube to give him some more stand-over clearance.